Cultural Revolutions

Losing Their Vitality

H.L. Mencken, in 1923, noted the "amalgamation of the two great parties. Both have lost their old vitality, all their old reality; neither, as it stands today, is anything more than a huge and clumsy machine for cadging jobs. They do not carry living principles into their successive campaigns; they simply grab up anything that seems likely to make votes. The old distinctions between them have all faded out, and are now almost indiscernible." To Mencken's delight, Robert La Follette carried the banner of the Old Republic into the 1924 campaign, but though Fighting Bob won 17 percent of the national vote his Progressive Party captured only the 13 electors of Wisconsin. La Follette died the next year, and despite quadrennial entreaties his heirs (Senators Burton K. Wheeler of Montana and William E. Borah of Idaho) eschewed the third-party route.

Does anyone not on a public payroll or a network-news staff disagree with Mencken's indictment today? What Jerry Brown keenly calls the "Incumbent Party" has purged national polities of its sap and vim. Doughty insurgents who "work within the system," as we are instructed to do from childhood, are smeared by Establishment toadies, usually hack journalists and Distinguished Senior Fellows with an eye for the main chance. Just ask Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan, the best—and therefore most mud-bespattered—of the primary lot. Even muckier obloquy greets...

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